Cyprien Gaillard: Pruitt Igoe Falls; a Young Artist Rises


Desniansky Raion with live performance by Koudlam, photo by Nils Klinge; Desniansky Raion, 2007, Video still. Both courtesy of Cosmic, Paris.


The last time I saw Cyprien Gaillard in person was in April, at the 2008 Berlin Biennial, part of his contribution to which involved transplanting a massive bronze sculpture of a duck from a housing project in Paris to the entrance of Berlin’s Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie. Le Canard de Beaugrenelle, as the piece is called, is now in situ at the Kunsthalle-Fridericianum in Kassel, where Gaillard’s solo exhibition, “Pruitt-Igoe Falls,” opened last week. “It looks different here than it did at the Neue Nationalgalerie,” he said of the graffiti-marked duck, a mascot for what the 28 year-old Parisian artist calls the tradition merdique, the “shitty” side of modernism. “It’s as though it has been migrating for 20 years and now it’s come to rest in this room, like one of those installations in a natural history museum.”

Gaillard’s Geographical Analogies series is on view in a second room, where a 25-meter table displays 900 Polaroid photographs, arranged nine-by-nine in 100 separate wooden and glass boxes, in which the pyramids of Mexico are juxtaposed with housing projects in the Bronx, classical French ruins with new structures in Egypt, reading, says Gaillard, “like an atlas of the world.” Gaillard says the display of this series marks the end of a body of work-and perhaps the symbolic climax of the end of the first, already impressive phase in the artist’s still young career.


Photo of Cyprien. Courtesy the artist.


Gaillard is a profound romantic, the kind who is attracted to destruction—so Kassel, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm and surreal example of a city still grappling with post-WWII rehabilitation, is especially suited as a venue here. “It’s a show about falls, about falling in general,” he says; indeed, in the title piece Pruitt Igoe Falls, the destruction of a Glasgow tower block is shown parallel to a nocturnal view of Niagara Falls, both shots generating haunting clouds reminiscent of Gaillard’s early works with fire extinguishers. “When the building fell, the dust from the destruction made its way through the graveyard below us like a ghost, slowly coming to the camera until everything went black. It becomes a natural monument, just like Niagara Falls at night-both subjects are falling, both slowly bring you to obscurity.”


“Pruitt Igoe Falls” is on view at the Kunsthalle-Fridericianum in Kassel through March 15, 2009. Cyprien Gaillard is a participant in the upcoming “Younger Than Jesus” show at the New Museum in New York.